A Doorway to Opportunity Closes: Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia Strikes Down Windows and Doors Ordinance

aboutAHCDnew3The Philadelphia City Council Windows and Doors Ordinance was an effective policy that held absentee property managers accountable for properties missing doors and windows. Abandoned structures without doors and windows become areas suited for criminal activity and contribute to neighborhood blight.

In a decision issued on September 22, 2015, the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County struck down a decision of the Board of Licenses and Inspection Review (L&I) against a property owner who had appealed a finding that its property was blighted and in violation of the “Windows and Doors” ordinance.

The Program
Using a variety of tools, L&I was fining owners of properties in low-vacancy areas $300 per opening (missing door or window) per day. The initiative was data-driven in choosing which areas were best to target in order to get the best outcomes for the surrounding neighborhood.

The Impact
The Reinvestment Fund did an analysis of the impact of the initiative and found that “L&I’s concentrated enforcement activities, as authorized through Act 90, have had a measurable impact on the areas targeted.” Specifically, areas with aggressive enforcement saw increases in home sales prices compared to similar areas that didn’t have aggressive enforcement. In addition, while the areas without aggressive enforcement saw an increase in property delinquency, the targeted areas saw delinquency numbers stay relatively flat.

RHLS has, as a part of its work with the Data Collaborative, consisting of RHLS, the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, The Reinvestment Fund, LISC Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations, analyzed the impact of the “Windows and Doors” ordinance in Philadelphia and found that it had a significant positive affect on the neighborhoods where it was implemented.

The University of Pennsylvania studied the Windows and Doors Program in Philadelphia, finding that “Building remediation were significantly associated with citywide reductions in overall crimes, total assaults, gun assaults, and nuisance crimes.”

The Reinvestment Fund published, Strategic Property Code Enforcement and its Impact on Surrounding Markets in August of 2014, which specifically analyzes the impacts and effectiveness of the Windows and Doors Ordinance. Regional Housing Legal Services assisted with the report as a part of our work with the Data Collaborative.

The ordinance was an effective strategy to combat blight was disappointing. A further disappointment was that the court stated that “[t]he record is void of any testimony that putting windows and doors on the property would make the property any safer” and alleged that the ordinance was merely about aesthetics.

Though the ordinance was overturned, the Philadelphia Department of Licensing and Inspections will continue to enforce the rule while the decision undergoes an appeal in the Court of Common Pleas. RHLS will continue to provide updates as the situation evolves.

Check out this article in PlanPhilly to learn more about the issue.

PULP LIHEAP Manual 2015-2016, Key Changes, and LIHEAP in Brief

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The Pennsylvania Utility Law Project has published the 2015-2016 LIHEAP Manual.

Key changes to the program this year include:

  • DHS will issue a Supplemental Cash Benefit of $70 to “vulnerable” households that qualify for a LIHEAP cash grant. A household is vulnerable if it has a member that is: Elderly (age sixty or older); Disabled;   or Age five and under. The age of the household members is determined by their age at the time the LIHEAP application is submitted.
  •  Coordination of Cash and Crisis Benefits: A household must use all of its authorized LIHEAP Cash benefits to resolve a crisis before receiving a Crisis grant.
  •  LIHEAP for Customer Assistance Program (CAP) customers: Utility companies must continue apply LIHEAP cash grants only to the “Asked to Pay” amount the CAP customer is required to pay, regardless of whether they operate based on a Percent of Income Payment Plan (PIP or PIPP) or rate discount model.

2015-2016 LIHEAP Program In Brief

Program Dates

  • Cash Grant                            opens Nov. 2, 2015                 closes April 1, 2016
  • Crisis Grant                           opens Nov. 2, 2015                 closes April 1, 2016
  • Crisis Interface/WAP          opens Nov. 2, 2015                 closes April 1, 2016
  • DHS[2] may extend or shorten program dates depending on availability of funds.

Eligibility:  Eligibility is set at 150% of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines for Cash and Crisis Grant Program, and 200% of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines for the Crisis Interface/Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP):

2015-2016 LIHEAP Household Income Limits

Household Size

150% FPL for Cash & Crisis

1 $ 17,655
2 $ 23,895
3 $ 30,135
4 $ 36,375
5 $ 42,615
6 $ 48,855
7 $ 55,095
8 $ 61,335
9 $ 67, 575
10 $ 73,815
For each additional person add $ 6,240

 

Grant Amounts:

  • Minimum Cash grant will be $100.
  • Maximum Cash grant will be $1,000.
  • Minimum Crisis grant will be $25.
  • Maximum Crisis grant will be $500.

Changes to LIHEAP in 2015-2016

DHS will issue a Supplemental Cash Benefit of $70 to “vulnerable”households that qualify for a LIHEAP cash grant. A household is vulnerable if it has a member that is:

  • Elderly (age sixty or older);
  • Disabled;[3]  or
  • Age five and under.

The age of the household members is determined by their age at the time the LIHEAP application is submitted.

Treatment of Loans: DHS will exclude from income calculation loans from established financial institutions that are designated for a specific purpose (such as loans from a bank).

Coordination of Cash and Crisis Benefits: A household must use all of its authorized LIHEAP Cash benefits to resolve a crisis before receiving a Crisis grant.

Automated Eligibility Determination: Households who 1) apply through COMPASS and 2) choose to use income that is verified and known to DHS (because the household receives other benefits such as food stamps, MA, or cash) may get an automated eligibility determination if the household’s address and membership has not changed and all other conditions of eligibility are met.

Clarifications that Continue to Require Attention

Public utilities that operate Customer Assistance Program (CAPs) are required to apply the LIHEAP cash component benefits only to the customer’s monthly ‘Asked to Pay amount. No LIHEAP funds may be applied to CAP customer’s pre-program arrearages or actual usage amounts.[4] DHS makes no distinction between a Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIP or PIPP) CAP or a Rate Discount CAP. The purpose of LIHEAP is to help low income households meet their home heating needs. The LIHEAP Federal statute, regulations and Pennsylvania’s approved state plan all require that LIHEAP funds be applied in full to the account of those households determined LIHEAP eligible. Therefore, utility companies must apply LIHEAP cash grants only to the “Asked to Pay” amount the CAP customer is required to pay, regardless of whether they operate based on a Percent of Income Payment Plan (PIP or PIPP) or rate discount model. A fuller discussion of this issue is found at pages 20–22 of this Manual.

A life-threatening Crisis must be resolved within 18 hours; however, DHS requires that it be a documented medical emergency.[5] DHS has not provided guidance as to how or if this additional language will affect Crisis applicants with a life-threatening crisis situation. Please advise PULP if you have a client who has been negatively affected.

Furnace replacement is now specifically designated as an appropriate activity within the Crisis Interface Program.[6] However, the Crisis Interface Policy at C-3 of the State Plan states that if the furnace has not been operating within past two heating seasons, it may not be eligible for Crisis services, as a furnace that has not been working for that long of a period of time cannot be considered to be a weather-related emergency. The applicant must provide proof of the home heating emergency. The Policy in the State Plan allows for some consideration on a case by case basis.

Laura Schwartz Discusses Neighborhood Assistance Program as a Tool to Aid Most Vulnerable

In case you missed it earlier this month, check out Director of Economic Development, Laura Schwartz’s article in The Legal Intelligencer, “Neighborhood Assistance Program: Tool to Aid Most Vulnerable.”

Neighborhood Assistance Program: Tool to Aid Most Vulnerable
Laura J. Schwartz, The Legal Intelligencer
September 28, 2015
Deep-rooted and complex social problems require creative solutions that experienced advocates are best prepared to devise. That is why Regional Housing Legal Services (RHLS) wanted to work with Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to improve the ability of its Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP) not only to revitalize communities, but to enhance the lives of those who face extra challenges to stable, affordable housing.

For more than 40 years, RHLS has been dedicated to addressing the pressing issues of vulnerable populations and low-income individuals and families. Its attorneys represent nonprofit organizations creating and preserving housing for these individuals and families throughout the long and often complicated development process. In addition, RHLS attorneys are involved in crafting innovative policy solutions that create sustainable communities with decent, safe and affordable housing for low-income Pennsylvanians. RHLS tackles complicated issues and, when necessary, advocates for new policies and the creation of new programs to respond to critical needs in the commonwealth.

More than 35 years after its creation, NAP continues to incentivize Pennsylvania businesses to support community revitalization by providing credits against state tax in exchange for contributions to neighborhood nonprofit organizations. Over the last decade, RHLS has advocated for and worked with DCED in effecting key changes to NAP that are designed to both boost the program’s popularity with private investors and enhance its effectiveness in addressing the problems of Pennsylvania’s most disinvested communities and vulnerable populations.

In 1967, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed the Neighborhood Assistance Act with the intention of benefiting “impoverished areas,” i.e., neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty, joblessness, educational disadvantage and crime. The program was modeled after the efforts of the Tasty Baking Co. to improve the northwest Philadelphia neighborhood surrounding its headquarters by creating and funding a community development organization. NAP was the first program of its kind in the nation, enabling businesses to strategically partner with nonprofit organizations in order to provide support and opportunity in distressed areas by constructing or renovating housing, rehabilitating commercial buildings, eliminating blight and conducting crime prevention programs (among other activities).

Although initially successful, over time NAP became overshadowed by other Pennsylvania tax credit programs that offered greater economic returns to businesses. Indeed, by 2006 as much as 50 percent of the $18 million in NAP tax credits available was going unused—a loss of $18 million to $24 million in potential annual investment. Over a period of nearly three years, RHLS worked with a coalition of organizations from the nonprofit and banking communities to encourage modernization of the stagnating NAP. In 2006, the state legislature passed changes to the Neighborhood Assistance Act that updated NAP by extending tax credits to “pass-through” entities such as S corporations, limited liability companies and limited partnerships (which may then transfer the credits to shareholders, members or partners), increasing the credit rates, increasing the cap on credits (enabling businesses with statewide footprints to make investments in multiple markets), and allowing the sale or transfer of unused credits. These legislative changes enabled law firms, among other “pass-through entities,” to use the NAP credits to support legal services and public interest programs.

Following implementation of these changes, DCED now receives applications each year for $36 million—double the amount of NAP tax credits available. Unfortunately, however, NAP is still largely underutilized outside of the state’s largest cities. As a result, Pennsylvania’s most impoverished citizens have not benefited as much as they could from the program’s five components: the Neighborhood Assistance Program Tax Credit, the Special Program Priorities, the Neighborhood Partnership Program, the Charitable Food Program and the Enterprise Zone Program Tax Credit. DCED’s emphasis, from the program’s inception, that projects be “neighborhood-based” and its requirement that applicants provide both physical boundaries and census data for the target neighborhood have long inhibited nonprofit organizations that do not serve specific geographically-based communities from obtaining NAP tax credits.

Nothing in the Neighborhood Assistance Act, however, precludes DCED from allocating credits to projects carried out in multiple markets throughout a county, region or even the state. Indeed, legislative amendments made in 2012 implicitly recognized this by allowing the approval of applications for charitable food programs, such as food banks, via the newly created Charitable Food Program.

Earlier this year, RHLS met with DCED to point out that food insecurity is just one of many problems that cut across community boundaries. There are other significant issues in Pennsylvania that are not neighborhood-based and therefore, incompatible with the requirements of NAP, including the unmet housing and other needs of vulnerable populations such as veterans and their families, survivors of domestic abuse, the mentally ill, people with disabilities, youth aging out of foster care and the homeless. Just as families in need of food are not typically found within a single neighborhood, homeless veterans and the mentally ill are found throughout Pennsylvania’s towns and counties.

DCED’s response has been subtle but significant. In June, the department issued guidelines for its most recent round of NAP tax credit allocations (the application window of which closed July 31). The 2015 guidelines now allow a nonprofit applicant to define the geographical area for its proposed program. In several places, “target area” or “area” has been added to or substituted for “neighborhood” and the earlier requirement to “keep the area [for the proposed project] as contained and geographically minimal as possible” has been removed entirely.

RHLS is optimistic that these changes will enable DCED to allocate tax credits to businesses that invest in projects serving the state’s most impoverished and vulnerable populations—whether creating housing for homeless veterans and persons with disabilities or providing supportive services such as counseling, job training and medical care to survivors of domestic violence. The latest NAP revisions should also give the agency the flexibility to consider projects with the potential for more strategic impact, as well as those in rural areas.

NAP offers an excellent opportunity for private sector businesses to build effective partnerships with nonprofit organizations to tackle many of the difficult problems in Pennsylvania today. RHLS looks forward to seeing the positive changes that the most recent changes to the program will make for the state’s most vulnerable citizens. •

Reprinted with permission from the 9/28/15 issue of The Legal Intelligencer ©2015 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.

Preserved Housing for Seniors in Reading, PA: Market Square Apartments

Recently, RHLS celebrated the rededication of Market Square Apartments in Reading, Pennsylvania, in honor of the preservation of 38 units of housing for low-income senior citizens. The rehabilitation of the building, originally built in 1997, included a new roof, new windows, a water-shedding insulated wall system, and a complete replacement of the building’s facade, as well as weatherization efforts to minimize environmental impact and increase utility affordability.

Managed bMark Square Apartmentsy the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) Mid-Atlantic, the one and two-bedroom, pet-friendly apartments offer housing with access to public transportation right in the heart of Reading. The apartments feature large windows, twenty-four hour emergency maintenance, and supportive services.

The preservation of developments like Market Square Apartments is vital to allowing Pennsylvania’s seniors to stay independent. As discussed in some of our other blog posts, the need for housing for seniors in Pennsylvania is significant, having the fourth largest population of individuals over the age of sixty-five in the country.

The $2.7 million renovation will ensure that the apartments remain affordable for seniors in the Berks County area through 2045. Learn more about the apartments and renovation project on the HDC Mid-Atlantic website. 

RHLS Deputy Director/Senior Attorney for Multi-Family Housing, Dina Schlossberg, represented HDC Mid-Atlantic, providing services on matters related to the partnership agreement and construction loan financing.

RHLS worked with HDC Mid-Atlantic last year on Mountain View Terrace, another senior housing facility in New Holland, Pennsylvania.